NOTE: As this is not fiction, I will not be reviewing it as fiction. Rather, this is more a response and musing on this work.
The Problem of Pain was a gift from Quintessential Editor.
I consider myself a christian, though perhaps the worst I know. So any chance to read a book that provides insight is a welcome thing in my world.
This book approaches the overarching question of, “Why does God allow pain in this world?”
I’ve given a lot of thought about how best to approach this review, and I feel that the most appropriate way is to simply state what I agreed with, what I disagreed with and what my reactions were.
Perhaps the number one reason I am concerned for my soul is that I believe and know that God exists, and I am never certain if I’m serving his will (more on that below). A simple search of the book’s title will reveal a quote from Lewis, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the wall of his cell.”
I will not use this book to prove my state of mind any more than I will to dispute the book’s content. I believe a man’s actions are either in line with God’s will, or contrary to it. A man may choose to go against God’s will because God granted man the power of choice. Yes, man can choose to refuse to worship, but that refusal doesn’t diminish God, it demises and condemns the man refusing. Here I feel it appropriate to mention that it is my opinion that the best way a man worship’s God is in living out his purpose. The fear comes from the line between one’s conviction in what he’s doing is God’s will vs assuming any man can actually KNOW God’s will. This is an issue I would greatly appreicate more elaboration on.
Lewis mentioned mental pain. I agree that mental pain is much more difficult to bear. I have a great many memories of physical pain, but the trails which caused me the most despair and discomfort arose not from the physical injury of a limb or joint, but from the wounds my heart has suffered. My point? I would happily surrender any sense, limb, or physical discomfort for the simple peace of knowing I belong. This does not in any way indicate my desire to encounter or deal with physical pain. I’m so far blessed to have avoided extreme amounts of physical pain. I don’t enjoy heartburn or cuts, but those fade. I can not speak to the degree of pain suffered through some of the injuries I fear. All I can say with honesty and conviction is mental pain endures, and physical pain fades. A man can only endure so much in either fashion, but mental pain is, for me at this juncture of my life, much more challenging to bear.
I will not transcribe Mr. Lewis’s quote on heaven, but it is the core of what I found the most encouragement in. It is the quote for which I will always bless Corey. Lewis spoke about the “secret signature of each soul,” and that resonated with me. I’ve spoken a few times. I have friends who simply don’t understand why I’m willing to suffer exhaustion, sadness, disappointment and despair. For me, writing, the process, craft and creation of writing. When I sit and write, truly create, I feel as if that is the thing for which I was made. And that brings me to my fear and where I respectfully disagree with Mr. Lewis.
May God forgive me if I’m wrong.
The premise of this book is that God speaks to us through pain. While I respect and agree with a great deal of what Mr. Lewis said, I can not in any way wrap my mind around the idea that God speaks to us in our feelings. This may be the mistake that costs me my soul, but I do so in ignorance and not defiance.
The quote reads, “We can ignore even pleasure, but pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
For me, to believe God speaks to me in pain (especially at this point in my life) would be for me to not simply give up that for which I feel I was made, but for me to feel as though God would use pain to teach me, or pleasure to reward me. I don’t argue that God is to us as we are to animals, but I think God, in his grace and wisdom, would find more effective tools to train man than positive and negative reinforcement. For example, I’ve done things in life in which I’ve enjoyed quite a lot of pleasure, but even I’m aware of how sinful they were. I’ve done things I knew would cause me great pain. The pain in my heart that will haunt me until the day I day, which will HURT me until the day I no longer feel anything, was done because it was right. This is my anecdotal rebuttal to the idea that God teaches me through pain.
What I believe in this regard is that God gave us free will, and demands obedience to His will. What pain I suffer I do not believe is God punishing me any more than I feel that the joys I receive are rewards. The blessings and trials I receive are for me to learn and grow from. They are, in my individual opinion, not devices of training, but tools for growth. I see a distinction. As a man, I just don’t want my dogs to pee on the floor. So we spank and punish behavior to correct it. It makes sense to draw the correlation, but I feel it’s misplaced. A man just wants his dog to behave; I feel God wants man to become. Man wants animals to behave as man wishes; God wants us, I believe, to become the works of art he sees we can be. This requires more than simple training, but teaching.
As I consider the act of free will, Mr. Lewis does a great job of discussing how that self-realization led to the fall of man, I feel free will to be both the requirement of faith and the most dangerous. Here, I come to my great fear.
My pain, in my belief, is far more my fault than God’s displeasure with me. My choices and actions have consequences. The religious implications of those actions are not necessarily related to the earthly ones. But I do think about it.
When my sales are lower than ever, when I’m tired and upset, I pray. I pray, not as often as I should, but I do. I pray, and I think to myself, “is this really God’s will? Am I suffering because I’m refusing to see his plan for me?”
Sometimes I feel like the dwarves from the last book of Mr. Lewis’s famous saga. God lays out all those blessings before them, and they can’t see. None can see God’s glory if they refuse to see it. Am I refusing to see what is in front of me, or am I simply running, further up, and further north, to that which I’m meant for. I simply can not know. All I can do is what I feel God wishes for me to do.
At this point, I remember the most important part of myself. It is when I write, that I most feel I am doing what I’m meant to do. Writing has nothing to do with being read or selling books.
The pain I feel is in regard to my sales and reviews. The lack of earthly success and monetary gain I receive from writing. Even all of that pain is as nothing when I write.
So I leave this blog where Mr. Lewis left me at the end of this book. The feeling I get from writing is like a lock, for which I was made. It is a world made just for me. There are other aspects that I truly don’t enjoy, but only time will tell if they are tools designed to move me where I’m meant to go or simply trials that God is giving me to show me how strong I am. I can’t know God’s will. I only know the pure, unearthly joy I receive when I write. I will not proclaim my entrance to heaven because it is not for me to judge anyone, let alone myself. All I know is, writing is the closest (and infinitely farther still) I come to feeling like I’m in heaven, and so I will continue to do so.
Thanks for reading,
8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis”
Beautiful, poignant piece. Thank you for sharing it.
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Thanks you so much for stopping by. I’m always glad to hear people’s thoughts and opinions.
I love the personal style of your review here. More a meditation than a review, actually–and that’s more interesting to me.
I read this a long time ago, but it didn’t have much to say to me. And I like C. S. Lewis, despite the fact that we come from different religious traditions. (I’m a ‘Reformative’ Jew who’s a little Vaishnava at heart.)
It’s important to Lewis to prove G-d’s all-consuming benevolence and goodness. It’s not so important to me, and not something I stress over–I was already satisfied with the somewhat ambiguous answers of the Book of Job.
Still, Lewis is always interesting, and I thank you for sharing your own way if wrestling with him.
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Thanks for stopping by. My goal is really to understand and explain my thoughts. I talk a lot about Christianity because I’m a man of faith, but I’d be lying if I said I was a man of the church. That statement alone usually causes a good deal of discussion. It also inspired a trilogy I’m going to write down the road. Any chance I get to gather more earnest opinions is a good one. I’m glad you liked the post.
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Talking about what matters to you is a good thing. I know my religion bleeds into my stories, sometimes obviously, sometimes in weird ways.
I guess I’m not surprised that causes discussion–being Christian without a church, I mean. It would be difficult to be an observant Jew without being active in a Jewish community. Too many important things require a minyan (a gathering of at least ten adult Jews, by progressive standards, or ten adult male Jews by Orthodox standards.) Of course, lots of Jews don’t have the luxury of a Jewish community, though there are online alternatives for those willing to make use of them on Shabbat.
I know one of C.S. Lewis’s concerns about going solo was how to receive Communion, which he saw as a commandment. But I don’t know if all Christians see it that way.
Anyway, everyone has their issues with institutional religion. No surprise–it can be a mixed blessing.
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